How has Neil Gaiman, author of fiction in a variety of forms ranging from novels and short stories to comic books, radio plays, and films, managed to win over such a large and devoted fan base? Ask a member of that fan base, and you’ll more than likely hear an explanation along the lines of, “He knows how to tell a story.” That may sound like a simple skill, but telling a story at Gaiman’s level requires a deep-rooted expertise in the essential nature and still-unexplored possibilities of storytelling itself — an expertise that Gaiman himself has lately proven more than willing to share. A few years ago we featured his lecture “How Stories Last” here on Open Culture; now, he’s come out with an online course on the art of storytelling at MasterClass.
“Human beings are storytelling creatures,” Gaiman says in the course’s trailer above. “Stories are vital. We convey truth with stories. That is the magic of fiction.” But even the author of stories like The Sandman, Neverwhere, Stardust, American Gods, Coraline, and much more besides has certain admissions to make about the practice of writing them: “Writing a novel is like driving through the fog with one headlight out,” for example.
“You can’t see very far ahead of yourself. But every now and again, the mists will clear.” And when it comes time to revise, he explains, “the process of doing your second draft is the process of making it look like you knew what you were doing all along.” What do you need most to make it through this harrowing process? The “conviction that you are brilliant.”
Not that you don’t need anything else. The nineteen lessons of Gaiman’s MasterClass cover everything from “using the ‘lie’ of a made-up story to tell a human truth,” to “how to overcome the fear of making mistakes,” to techniques like “cold opens, withholding information, finding emotional weight, and choosing memorable details,” to the art of worldbuilding, which Gaiman describes as “honestly, the joy of getting to play god.” Other lessons provide case studies focusing on his short stories, novels, and comic books, all of which have no doubt inspired many to tell stories themselves. But who, hearing Gaiman talk about storytelling, could possibly resist trying their hand at it?
You can sign up for Gaiman’s course here.
FYI: If you sign up for a MasterClass course by clicking on the affiliate links in this post, Open Culture will receive a small fee that helps support our operation.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.